Hot dogs have been a staple in feeding a crowd quickly since approximately forever. I’m pretty sure cave people were eating their skewered mastodon with fermented cabbage on top, even. Until last year my last memories of hot dogs were damp, slightly warm, napkin-wrapped soggy buns curled around a slightly rubbery, boiled little mystery meat-filled tubes. They were passed out at birthday parties and sports windups, topped with a squirt of yellow mustard and a squiggle of ketchup.
Hot dog carts have been a staple of the downtown Winnipeg lunch rush. With its formerly restrictive street vendor laws, hot dog and fry carts/trucks were basically the only players in the street meat game. As a long-time vegetarian and new vegan, moving into the city didn't come with an appreciation for the art of a street-side hot dog. In the past year or so, though, I've realized there's something to be said for sitting on a curb or bench with some starch and some protein smothered in various (usually pickled) toppings. Mostly grilled up to order, with signs proudly boasting that they serve Old Country Sausage dogs, there's something so satisfyingly simple about eating a childhood party staple as an adult.
I asked my friends for their recommendations (and did the delicious work for you) to determine our downtown vendors' best dog.
The Richardson Building at the corner of Portage and Main
I spotted a lineup at this cart, which I didn't expect, and realized soon that it was with good reason: this was the best dog, by FAR. It was an organized operation, with one guy in the front of the cart to take your money and provide you with an ice cold pop and/or chips while shouting your order to someone I will refer to as “The Grill Master”. The toppings on this one knocked it out of the park and the bun and dog were both noticeably fresh.
Toasted to perfection and doughy in the middle - all you could ask for from a hot dog bun.
In the age where everyone's a foodie, there's something to be said for going the extra mile. They had crispy fried onions, salsa, kraut, onions, jalapenos, banana peppers, relish, simulated bacon bits, ketchup, mustards (including the PC Brand Sweet with Heat, which is your new favorite mustard), honey mustard sauce, Sriracha, and lime chipotle freaking aioli. This is some next-level stuff.
My veggie dog was average and not butterflied or spiral cut (like the regular dogs). Those beef dogs and smokies looked EXCELLENT and my inquires resulted in favorable reviews and the word 'juicy' more than once.
Chip/Pop Selection: 7/10
Standard selection, but on a cute and convenient rack. Also: +1 pt for Dr. Pepper.
Very professional/office-y crowd with soft-rock hits from the ‘90s/early 2000s. Security guards/downtown BIZ everywhere. I walked and dogged on this one.
Would eat again, perhaps on a nice Albert St. Bench.
Broadway just outside the Traffic Courts
The lunch hour was coming to an end as I sauntered up to this pretty dead cart. Two men with really great mustaches were working the cart and were some of the friendliest folk I encountered. I wanted these guys to be first place, but my heart is easily won with crispy onions.
Fine, pretty fresh and not toasted. TOAST YOUR BUNS, PEOPLE.
The standard ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, kraut, banana peppers, pickles setup with the addition of BBQ sauce, Sriracha, mayo and OLIVES. I don't know who needs olives on their hot dog, but if you're that one olive-lovin’ person: get thee to D.D. Dogs.
Strangely, everyone in line behind and in front of me ALSO got a veggie dog. Which was good for them, because they were fresh, cooked butterflied AND cut in half to fill the whole length of the bun. It's the small things when it comes to hot dogs, you guys. Plus, they were the day's cheapest at $3.50.
Chip/Pop Selection: 7/10
Miss Vickie's AND Hickory Sticks. They really went for it on this one.
From the Latin music blasting out of the cart's speakers to the mats they set down on the Traffic Courts ledges FOR OUR COMFORT, D.D. Dogs was straight up making an effort. And it worked. My hot dog eating experience was downright pleasant. Light crowd, but pretty chill.
Outside the Mountain Equipment Co-op building
To be fair, my friend Shoni had only said she liked this cart because it's right outside her office and she sees its arrival as a sign of summer. The gent running this little operation was friendly, but I was just not that into this dog at all.
Stale-ish, dry, and untoasted.
Basic with a few fancy mustards, including my beloved Sweet with Heat.
Dry and old tasting. Definitely a little overcooked, which might also be due to the fact this was a one-man operation and there was a lineup of people wanting Cokes after.
Chip/Pop Selection: 6/10
Basic, but as always +1 pt for Dr. Pepper.
Eclectic mix of bus stop patrons, MEC shoppers, and construction site workers. A little hectic, but charming. Nowhere to sit, however.
Would have been average based on the experience, but those stale buns just killed me.
Published in Volume 68, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 4, 2014)